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Oddities And Crime: The Scrapbook Of Chief Of Police Levi Little

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by Kelli Huggins

I feel a bizarre kinship to Levi D. Little that is based solely on the contents of his scrapbook. In fact, I consider Little’s scrapbook to be one of my favorite items in our entire collection. It’s not so much that the contents are remarkable—it consists of newspaper clippings which are mostly available to read elsewhere. Instead, what I love about the scrapbook is that I feel like it gives a unique insight into his personality, and as it turns out, we like a lot of the same things.

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Levi Little was born in the Town of Baldwin on May 20, 1850. As a young man, he quickly moved up the ranks of local law enforcement; he was elected constable in 1873 and, in 1874, moved to Elmira, where he became as deputy sheriff. Three years later, he was elected sheriff on the Republican ticket. Less than four years later, he became the Elmira Chief of Police on April 11, 1883, a position he held until his resignation from the force in 1895. Claiming he was tired of the job, politics, and criticism, he worked the rest of his life as a detective for the Northern Central Railroad. 

The scrapbook in our collection is from 1889 to 1890. Little mostly saved clippings of local police and crime news. That makes sense, of course. I used his scrapbook in my research for the “Great Female Crime Spree” chapter in my book Curiosities of Elmira because it includes clippings on the criminal dealings of forger Ella White, alleged murder Mary Eilenberger, and sex trafficker Mary Fairman (check out the book to find out more about these wild women). 

But the crime stories are not the main reason I love the Little scrapbook. Occasionally, Little would clip a news story that had nothing to do with his professional life. He seemed to have an interest in what we might call “oddities,” something Levi Little and I have in common.

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He clipped a story about John Lawes, a local man who found unwanted fame for weight gain caused by a uncontrollable medical condition. Lawes’ is a deeply sympathetic story (which I also tell in Curiosities of Elmira) and it is unclear if Little knew Lawes personally or was just following his story.

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Little also saved stories that had to do with the happenings of some of the local clubs and organizations with which he was involved, giving us a better sense of how he was a member of the community outside of his official duties.

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I appreciate all of these things, but tucked away on a page toward the back of the scrapbook is the clipping I gravitate towards most:

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This article and etching show the famous Railroad Jack, a train-riding mutt from Albany, NY, who is the subject of my next book (check out www.findingrailroadjack.com for more information!)
 
From my research, I knew Jack was a frequent guest of Elmira and was popular here, but to see him actually show up in a scrapbook (of the Chief of Police, no less!) gives me a better understanding of just how much local people liked the dog. This has become an important piece of evidence in my book project to prove the reaches of Jack’s celebrity.
 
Levi Little died unexpectedly on March 8, 1901 from complications from surgery for appendicitis. He had never married, a fact that earned him some gentle ribbing in an 1888 Elmira Telegram article about local eligible bachelors. What was Levi Little actually like as a person? Like all people, he was certainly a complicated figure, but I can’t help but to like the glimpses of the “real” him see in his scrapbook.
 
Kelli Huggins is the Education Coordinator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To see more of their blog, go to http://chemungcountyhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com
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